The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/On Mercenary Soldiers
ON MERCENARY SOLDIERS
Born In 1484, died in 1531; educated at Bern, Vienna, and Basel; became Pastor of a church in Glarus, Switzerland, in 1506; a Preacher at Zurich in 1518, where he inaugurated the Reformation; met the Saxon reformers in conference in 1529; went with the Zurich forces against the Forest Cantons in 1531; killed at the Battle of Kappel.
The foreign lords have so wheedled and enticed us, simple confederates, seeking their own profit, that at length they have brought us into such danger and disagreement between ourselves that we, not regarding our fatherland, have more care how to maintain them in their wealth and power than to defend our own houses, wives, and children. And this were less had we not shame and damage out of this pact. We have at Naples, at Navarre, at Milan, suffered greater loss in the service of these masters than since we have been a Confederacy; in our own wars we have been ever conquerors, in foreign wars often vanquished; such evils, it is to be feared, have been brought about by those who seek more their own private gain than the true interests of their country.
Let each one for himself reflect on the evils of war and think how it would be with him if he were treated in the manner in which we use our fellow Christians. Think, now, that a foreign mercenary came into thy land with violence; laid waste thy meads, thy fields, thy vineyards; drove off thy cattle; bound thy house furniture together and carted it away; slew thy son in the attack, who would defend himself and thee; violated the chastity of thy daughters; kicked with his feet the dear wife of thy bosom, who went before thee and fell down at the feet of this foreign soldier, begging mercy for thee and herself; dragged out thyself, pious, worthy, old man, even in thine own house and home, from the place where thou wert crouching in fear, knocked thee down in presence of thy wife, despite her cries, and despite thine own trembling, venerable, pleading gray hairs; and then at last set fire to thy dwelling and burned it to the ground,—wouldst thou not think within thyself, if the Heaven did not open and spit fire on such villainy, if the earth did not yawn and swallow up such monsters, there were no God? And yet thou doest all this to another and callest it, forsooth, "the right of war!"
Those who, for truth, religion, justice, and native country, venture their lives in war, are true men, and their cause is sacred. But as for those bloodthirsty, mercenary soldiers who take the field for gain, of whom the world is now full, and those wars which princes carry on, from day to day, out of lust of power, filling the earth with bloodshed, I, for my part, not only can not approve them, but I believe there is nothing more wicked and criminal, and have the opinion that such men deserve to be branded as highway robbers, and that they are unworthy of the name of Christians.
The second danger that threatens us from the foreign lords and their wars is that justice between man and man is stopped; as an old proverb says, "When arms are up in the hands, laws are under the feet." The term "right of war" means nothing but violence, use it as you will, turn it over as you will. Yet it is objected—force must be employed to reduce the disobedient if they refuse to yield obedience to things lawful and right. Yea, verily, it were good it went no farther, and that the thunderbolt of war struck these alone, and that each forced only the disobedient to obedience in things lawful. But what sayest thou of the man who takes money and helps a foreign master to plunder, lay waste, and rob those who have done him no injury whatever; nay, who carries his sword to such masters whom it does not become to go to war at all, bishops, popes, abbots, and this, too, for vile money? Further, the foreign lords do prejudice to the cause of justice in so far that their gifts blind the eyes of every man, be he as wise as you will, and deprive him of his reason as well as of his piety; as Moses teaches, "A gift doth blind the eyes of the wise and pervert the words of the righteous." The third danger is that with foreign money and foreign wars our manners will become corrupted and debased. This we see very clearly, for our people have never returned from the foreign wars without bringing something new in clothes for themselves and their wives, or without importing home some new extravagance in eating and drinking, some new oaths; the bad they see and learn with readiness, so that we have reason to fear, if these wars be not desisted from, we shall be inundated with still worse evils.
The morality of the women, too, is corrupted. A woman is a weak creature, and desirous of new, handsome things, ornaments, fine clothes, jewels (as we see in Dinah, who went to Sechem out of curiosity, and was there humbled), and when such like things are made to flash in their eyes, and offered to them, think you that they will not be moved by these things, and that the temptation will not be too strong for them? It is to be feared, too, that in time the number of the males will be diminished, altho as yet this has been less noticeable. But at least they are unmanned by luxury. Now no one will work to obtain a living, the lands are out of cultivation, and lie waste in many places, because laborers are not to be got, altho there be people enough, and a land that could well nourish us all. If it bear not cinnamon, ginger, malmsey, cloves, oranges, silk, and other such dainties for the palate, it bears at least butter, milk, horses, sheep, cattle, lint, wine, and corn, and that to the full so that we can rear a fine, strong race of men, and as to what we want in our own country we can obtain it elsewhere against our own produce. That we do not hold to this comes from the selfishness that has been introduced among us, and which leads us off from labor to idleness.
And yet to work is noble: it saves from wantonness and vice; it yields good fruit, so that a man can richly nourish his body without care, and without the fear that he sully himself with the blood of the innocent, and live by it. It makes the body, too, hale and strong, dissipates diseases engendered by idleness, and last of all, fruit and increase follow the hand of the worker, as creation itself came from the hand of the all-working God at the beginning, so that, in external things, there is nothing in the universe so like God as the worker.
It is to selfishness we owe it that all our strength and power, which ought to defend our country, are consumed in the service of foreign masters. Behold how unlike we are to our ancestors! These would not suffer foreign masters in their land, but now we lead them in among us by the hand, if they have but money, that some may get hold of the money while many get the stripes. And when a pious man has brought up a well-doing son, then come the captains and steal him away, and he must expose himself to the danger of dying of hunger, disease, murder, shot, or wounds. And if he reckon up his bargained money he will find he could have won more by threshing, without speaking of his being run through the body with a spear ere the account comes to be paid; and last of all, his poor old father that brought him up, and whom he should have maintained in his old age, is reduced to carry the beggar's staff.
But those who get the money want for nothing. They force us into alliances with foreign masters, but only after they themselves have been bought over by heavy bribes. And, when it comes to loss, your neighbor or your neighbor's son must bear it, while they come off scotfree. And altho it stands in the conditions that none is to be forced, yet recruiting parties spread themselves over the whole land, and then it is seen what young blood will do when it is up. And with the remuneration it is to be taken into account that those who get the largest bribes conceal them, but, these living in riot and expense, another, who thinks he can not be less than they, goes to the like expense. And if he can not afford this, then he is at the mercy of the briber, who at last takes his vineyard, fields, and meadows. Then he helps him to a small pension, on which he can not live, and so, having lost his all, he must in the end face war and wounds for a wretched pay. In this manner we lose our best sons, who for vile money are consumed in a foreign land. But few, indeed, become rich, but these so rich that they might buy off the rest.
The fourth danger is that the gifts of the foreign lords breed hatred and distrust among us. The Almighty granted to our ancestors grace and favor in his sight, so that they freed themselves from a tyrannous nobility and lived in concord with one another. They prospered; while right and justice were so well administered in this land that all who were oppressed in foreign countries fled hither as to an asylum of safety. Then fear seized the hearts of the princes, who would not themselves act justly, and who yet stood in awe of our bold and unflinching attitude. But seeing that the Lord was strong on our side, so that they could not overcome us by force, they seduced us by the bait of bribes, and reduced us by enslaving us first to selfishness. They laid their schemes and considered that if one of us were to see a friend or a neighbor suddenly growing rich without any trade or profession, and living at his ease in riches, he, too, would be stirred up, in order that he might dress finely, live in idleness, carousing, and wantonness, like his neighbor; to hunt after riches (for all men incline naturally against work and toward idleness), and that, if the like riches were not vouchsafed to him, he would join himself to the ranks of their opponents; that in this manner disunion would be created, so that father should be against son, brother against brother, friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, and then that the kingdom, as the Son of God himself says, thus divided against itself, would not stand, and there would be an end of the Confederacy. This was what they calculated upon.
And if any one should inquire, How are we to deliver ourselves from these evils, and return again to union?—I answer, By abstaining from selfishness. For, if this base passion did not reign among us, the Confederacy were more a union of brothers than of confederates. If one rejoins to this, Selfishness is implanted in the human heart, from whence it can not be eradicated, for God alone can know and change the heart, then I answer, Do earnestly that which lies in your power. Where you find it punishable, punish it, and let it not grow. And that it may be extirpated out of the very hearts of men, give heed that the divine Word be faithfully preached.
For where God is not in the heart there is nothing but the man himself. Where there is nothing but the man himself, he cares for nothing but that which serves to his interests, pleasures, and lusts. But when God possesses the heart, then man has regard to that which pleases God, seeks the honor of God, and the profit of his fellow man. Now, the knowledge of God can come to us in no way clearer than from the Word of God. Will you, then, have the knowledge of God spread among you, so that you may live in peace and in the fear of God? Then see to it that the Word of God is purely preached, according to its natural sense, unadulterated by the glosses and inventions of man.
- From a sermon translated by John Cochran. By kind permission of Messrs. T. & T. Clark, of Edinburgh.